The Department of Home Affairs has revealed that it received a total of 40,147 requests for travel exemptions from persons seeking to enter Australia, during the period 20 March to 3 June 2020.
In its response to a question raised by Greens Senator Rachel Siewert in the Select Committee on COVID-19, the Department said the requests for exemption came from immediate family members of Australian citizens and permanent residents, temporary visa holders, persons who do not hold any visa and those seeking to transit through the country.
- Home Affairs received nearly 40,000 travel exemption requests from people seeking to enter Australia
- The Department received nearly 33,000 requests from Australians seeking to leave the country
- The government is working on plans to facilitate the return of some international students
According to the latest available figures, the Department said it has approved 968 requests on compassionate grounds, 514 of applicants possessing critical skills, 329 requests of people on temporary protection visa or Safe Haven Enterprise visas, and 263 of people possessing critical skills in the field of medicine, among other categories who have been allowed to enter the country as of June 1.
It is imperative to point out that the above figures do not include requests which were not referred to the ABF Commissioner for consideration.
During a public hearing of the committee in May earlier this year, ABF Commissioner Michael Outram said there was “no-factor weighted scoring model” for processing these applications and every one of these cases was “difficult” to assess.
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'Some applications of travel exemption requests are not referred to the ABF Commissioner'
While all requests are reviewed and triaged, the Department said that some applications may not progress to the commissioner for decision in the following circumstances:
- If the person is already exempt from Australia’s travel restrictions
- If the person has not provided sufficient information or documentary evidence to support the claim circumstance
- Or prima facie does not meet one of the categories under which exemption can be considered
Giving further insight into the numbers, the Department said applications may contain more than one person and not all persons within an application may receive an exemption.
'Let us get on with our lives'
According to the data provided to the Covid-19 committee, over 6,075,504 temporary visa holders remain outside the country as at June 7, 2020, a majority of whom hold maritime crew, tourist stream, or student visas.
Indian-origin visa holder Ruchika Patel who’s permanent residency application is currently under process said she has applied for an exemption to enter Australia thrice only to receive rejection each time.
“My eight-year-old son has been missing his school and we have been away from my husband who is alone in Nowra in NSW for over three months now. Please allow us to return so we can get on with our lives. We will be more than happy to pay for quarantine arrangements and comply with all health and safety guidelines,” said the 37-year-old.
Reiterating his stand, Greens Senator Nick Mckim who raised Ms Patel’s case in the Senate along with those of many other temporary visa holders who have been separated from their families said the Department must reveal the criteria it is using to access these applications.
“It is really important that the Home Affairs release the criteria against which applications for exemption to the travel ban are being judged. It’s not acceptable for people to just get a blanket no without any reason,” Senator Mckim told SBS Punjabi.
“I have reviewed many of these cases and there are extremely strong and in some cases compelling reasons for compassion to be granted and for people to be allowed back into Australia as long as they are prepared to comply with the appropriate quarantine arrangements, which a large number of people have indicated to me that they are prepared to do it,” he said.
The Department clarified that it does not possess details of travel requests by visa status and the type of visa held as such data could only be collated manually and would require an “unreasonable diversion of resources.”
Will visa holders other than students be allowed to enter Australia?
Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Friday said his government is working with the states and territories on plans to allow some international students to return on a pilot basis.
While he did not say anything about the temporary visa holders, Acting Immigration Minister Alan Tudge has repeatedly indicated that the government is yet to make a decision on that front.
When questioned if work visa holders other than students will be exempt from the country’s border restrictions, the Department told the Senate committee that “the travel ban exemptions are a matter for the Government.”
Outward travel exemptions:
All Australian citizens and permanent residents are required to apply for travel exemptions if they wish to travel outside the country, under the current border restrictions.
The Department has revealed that it has received a total of 33,047 such exemption requests as of 1 June 2020.
“A substantial proportion of travel exemption requests are not referred to the Australian Border Force Commissioner for decision due to a lack of supporting evidence; were assessed as exempt from travel restrictions, or prima facie did not present sufficiently compelling circumstances to warrant further consideration,” the Department said in its response.
While the Department did not provide a break down of how many of these requests were filed by citizens, and how many were lodged by residents, it, however, said that a total of 5,972 Australians were allowed to depart from the country as at 1 June.
It further said that a request may cover more than one person and there is no limit on the number of applications that can be lodged by an individual as is the case with inward travel.
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